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The other night, a day after the Haiti earthquake, ABC News ended its evening broadcast with video of destitute and shell-shocked Haitians standing in the street, singing alleluia. It was a stunning sight. Last night on Fox, Geraldo Rivera reported on a Fox crew that had gone out in search of an orphanage rumored to have been repeatedly assaulted by looters, who stole what little the poor children had. The crew was having trouble finding the place, until they heard the sound of children singing hymns. The footage Fox broadcasted of these children was absolutely heartbreaking (and Fox reported receiving a call from Colorado viewers offering to adopt the kids). This morning, the New York Times reports on how Haitians have responded to the catastrophe by turning to God. Excerpt:
Five days after Haiti’s devastating earthquake, an evangelical pastor in a frayed polo shirt, his church crushed but his spirit vibrant, sounded a siren to summon the newly homeless residents of a tent city to an urgent Sunday prayer service.
Voice scratchy, eyes bloodshot, arms raised to the sky, the Rev. Joseph Lejeune urged the hungry, injured and grieving Haitians who gathered round to close their eyes and elevate their beings up and out of the fetid Champ de Mars square where they now scrambled to survive.
“Think of our new village here as the home of Jesus Christ, not the scene of a disaster,” he called out over a loudspeaker. “Life is not a disaster. Life is joy! You don’t have food? Nourish yourself with the Lord. You don’t have water? Drink in the spirit.”
And drink they did, singing, swaying, chanting and holding their noses to block out the acrid stench of the bodies in a collapsed school nearby. Military helicopters buzzed overhead, and the faithful reached toward them and beyond, escaping for a couple of hours from the grim patch of concrete where they sought shelter under sheets slung over poles.
In varying versions, this scene repeated itself throughout the Haitian capital on Sunday. With many of their churches flattened and their priests and pastors killed, Haitians desperate for aid and comfort beseeched God to ease their grief. Carrying Bibles, they traversed the dusty, rubble-filled streets searching for solace at scattered prayer gatherings. The churches, usually filled with passionate parishioners on a Sunday morning, stood empty if they stood at all.
From one point of view, this is insane. From another, it’s heroic. It’s what you would expect from a people whose religion centers on a God who was humiliated, tortured, and nailed to a cross until he died in agony. The crucifixion is not the last word! This behavior from the Haitians makes perfect sense from a Christian point of view, but if you think about it, it also makes sense from an evolutionary point of view. Think of it as an adaptive behavior in the face of extreme adversity. If you allow the horror of what happened to swallow you up, you may not survive; the depression may consume you. If you believe, if you really believe, that with God’s help you and your loved ones will endure and prevail over this tragedy, or even if you do not, that your suffering has eternal meaning, and will be redeemed, you and your community may find the strength to overcome.
Besides, what else is there but to turn your overwhelming fear and sadness over to God? I remember the day after 9/11, going into a Brooklyn Catholic parish reporting for the Post. There was no mass going on, but the pews were half-full with people praying. I looked up at the sun shining through the windows in the tower, illuminating the smoke from Ground Zero that had drifted into the church. In that sweet-smelling smoke were the incinerated bodies of human beings. And there were the people of this parish, asking God for help with that foul incense drifting around them. Again: what else is there to do in the face of the incomprehensible? Do atheists have a better idea? What good are the philosophies of Dawkins and Dennett now to the poor of Port-au-Prince?
(Though let it be said in their favor that Dawkins and his confreres are raising money for Haitian relief — and God bless them for that. Still, they have this weird, nyaah-nyaah defensiveness about it, as if they couldn’t help themselves from trying to score points against religious believers from this catastrophe. Excerpt:
When donating via Non-Believers Giving Aid, you are helping to counter the scandalous myth that only the religious care about their fellow-humans. It goes without saying that your donations will only be passed on to aid organizations that do not have religious affiliations. … The myth that it is only the religious who truly care is sustained largely by the fact that they tend to donate not as individuals, but through their churches. Non-believers, by contrast, give as individuals: we have no church through which to give collectively, no church to rack up statistics of competitive generosity.
Give money to Haiti to stick it to the Christians. Is that really the line the Ditchkins ideologues want to take? Better to lay off the defensive breast-beating, and just help the helpless. Shame on any person or group, religious or secular, who uses the earthquake to score cheap culture-war points.